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Dick Walsh’s covert committee monitored OIRA media enemies. Future Irish Times Assistant editor put colleagues on lists.

By David Burke.

Part 1 of this series can be found at https://villagemagazine.ie/dw/

THE OFFICIAL IRA AND OFFICIAL SINN FÉIN

The IRA fractured in December 1969 into what became known as the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA. Sinn Féin split along the same lines the following month. Before the division, the IRA had been led by IRA veterans such as Cathal Goulding, who was its chief of staff, Seán Garland, Seamus Costello, Tomás MacGiolla, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Seán Mac Stíofáin. On the political front, they controlled Sinn Féin. Together the IRA and Sinn Féin were known as the Republican Movement.

Goulding, Garland, Costello and MacGiolla sided with the Officials after the split and reproduced the military and political formula for their new organisation. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Seán Mac Stíofáin set up the Provisionals. Goulding’s faction managed to retain control of the United Irishman, the movement’s monthly newspaper. Collectively they also became known as the ‘Stickies’.

Cathal Goulding avoids the media

The United Irishman had been edited by Tony Meade, Denis Foley, Séamas Ó Tuathail (who brought sales to a height of 100,000 in 1969) and then Eoin Ó Murchú. In late 1972 Ó Murchú left and Dick Walsh of the Irish Times, later to become its political editor (from 1985) and indeed its assistant editor (from 1999), was asked to take care of the paper while a new editor was found. The full-time replacement turned out to be Jackie Ward, who had been in charge of the The Starry Plough which had appeared in Derry.

In 1973 the Officials launched another publication, The Irish People, a weekly paper. Pádraig Yeates, who edited it between 1977 and 1982, joined the Irish Times in 1983.

The Officials also produced numerous pamphlets, most but not all of which were produced openly as Official Sinn Féin publications.

The Official IRA (OIRA) issued statements which were reported in the press. After they called a ceasefire in 1972, they continued to exist for purported ‘defensive’ purposes and continued to issue statements. The Irish Times continued reporting them until the mid-1970s. Bizarrely, when the paper interviewed Goulding wearing his political cap in 1983, it reported that the OIRA had ceased to exists in 1972, as if all the statements it had carried for the three to four years after the 1972 ceasefire had never appeared on its pages. It was the least of the dysfunctionalities in that paper’s nexus with the OIRA.

WALSH’S SECRET COMMITTEE

Behind the scenes Goulding and his GHQ staff decided to draw up a list of their friends and enemies in the media. Goulding, now chief of staff of the OIRA, appointed Dick Walsh as the kingpin of this clandestine effort. He was assigned to lead a committee which drew up lists of journalists and to characterise the attitude of each towards the Officials.

The OIRA also spied on their political opponents throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s and probably well beyond. Their penetration of the Revenue Commissioners caused so much internal rancour that some civil servants tried to set up their own union. They felt the Officials had taken over the existing set up.

The Officials’ spies in the Revenue Commissioners paid particular attention to the tax affairs of politicians such as Charles Haughey and well-known big -businessmen. Ultimately no use was made of the information they accrued because they did not want to draw attention to their assets in the department.

The OIRA also spied on groups who were opposed to the Soviet Union such as the Irish Council for European Freedom and the Irish Czech Society. Their reports were presumably furnished to the Soviets.

Amnesty International was another target. One of those monitored was Louise O’Brien.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Dick Walsh

Dick Walsh broke the media into five groups. Category ‘A’ consisted of those deemed friendly towards the Official Sinn Féin and the OIRA. This group consisted of between ten and twenty reporters who were prominent in the early 1970s. Walsh included himself in it, along with members of the OIRA who were working in the media and those who, while never in any wing of the IRA, were sympathetic to the left-wing direction in which Goulding was taking the Officials. The political wing of the Party became known as Sinn Féin the Workers Party (SFWP) and later again simply the Workers Party (WP).

Walsh and his committee presumably updated the list from time to time.

One possible motive for the exercise was to help create a network of supporters in the media. On the other side of the coin had the revolution, that Goulding, Garland, MacGiolla and their comrades were fomenting, actually succeeded, the information would have been a useful resource to identify likely counter-revolutionaries.

A number of ‘A’-listed OIRA figures were, or became, employees at the Irish Times. The purpose of this article is not to suggest that the Officials succeeded in taking control of the paper because they did not. The plot to murder a journalist at the Irish Times – which will be described in the next article in this series – demonstrates this definitively. Overall the paper was a broad church, especially under the editorship of Douglas Gageby. However, the ‘Stickies’ did have a number of notable successes in promoting their essential views, including their grossly distorted account of the Arms Crisis.

THE IRA VOLUNTEERS AT THE IRISH TIMES

As readers may recall from Part 1 of this series, James Downey, a former deputy editor of the Irish Times, stated that Dick Walsh was not only “an intimate of Cathal Goulding and the other leaders of what would shortly become the ‘Official’ Sinn Fein and IRA” but also that there were “two or three who were actual members of the IRA, on the paper”. (Downey p. 102.)

Sean Cronin, former Chief of Staff of the IRA and Irish Times Washington correspondent during the Troubles

Downey was disturbed by the OIRA presence and opined that “…the position of Dick Walsh was, to say the least, anomalous. He was so close to the ‘Official’ chiefs that he was able to show me a transcript of the court-martial (in absentia) of Seamus Costello, a noted [OIRA] defector..”. (Downey p. 102.)

Sean Cronin, who had preceded Goulding as a chief of staff of the IRA, (during the Border campaign) became the Washington correspondent of the Irish Times. He would have been of great interest to Walsh. Did he feature as an ‘A’-lister or did Walsh perceive him as unreliable?

Stephen Hilliard while still working at the Irish Times. He was later murdered.

It is safe to bet that one ‘A’-lister at the Irish Times was Stephen Hilliard who had been in the IRA in the 1960s. He famously left the paper for a religious vocation, but was murdered by an intruder to his home. After his death the Phoenix reported that he had been in the IRA. The NUJ Chapel at the paper complained to the magazine. However, at the hearing, the Phoenix produced three former IRA men who confirmed that he had been in the organisation.

The wife of a one-time senior commander of the OIRA also worked at the paper.

The Officials foresaw a successful revolution after which they would retain power indefinitely. As one senior official put it, “one-party government would have to be a decision of the people” but he could envisage “a position where you might have only one party as an expression of the democratic will of the people”. (from the history of the OIRA, ‘Lost Revolution’, page 363). Presumably, only category ‘A’ journalists would have been allowed to work in the media after the Officials assumed power.

THE MIDDLE GROUND

As a former candidate for the Irish Labour Party in the 1969 election, James Downey would not have been much of a contender for category ‘A’ . It is also unlikely that he would have made it into category ‘B’ which was for those sympathetic to the Officials since Downey was opposed to the use of violence which had become a tool of the OIRA. Between 1970 and 1983 they killed 54 people (and tried to kill another two, both of whom were journalists).

James Downey, deputy editor of the Irish Times

Downey would have fallen into ‘C’, i.e. for journalists who were open to the ideas put forward of the movement. The Officials were blind to the murder and mayhem they created and viewed themselves as socialist intellectuals. Walsh may have believed someone like Downey, a soft socialist of the Labour Party variety, might have been ‘open’ to enlightenment.

‘E’ FOR THE ENEMY

Category D consisted of those who were opposed to the Marxist ambitions of the Officials. An editor such as Tim Pat Coogan of the Irish Press might have slotted into this category. Walsh had worked for Coogan in the mid-1960s at the Irish Press.

Tim Pat Coogan and two of his books

If Coogan was not listed in D, he might have been condemned to ‘E’: those Walsh and his colleagues considered reactionaries. Goulding felt that Coogan’s book on the IRA exhibited “patronising pseudo-objectivity.”

The Officials called for a boycott of the Irish Press while it was edited by Coogan.

JACK HOLLAND OF HIBERNIA MAGAZINE IS THREATENED WITH VIOLENCE BY THE OFFICIAL IRA

Jack Holland of Hibernia magazine was another ‘E’. During the bloody OIRA feud with the INLA, he was told by a leading Official that his “career as a journalist in Dublin would be quickly brought to an end” if he continued to write critical reports about the Officials. (See ‘Lost Revolution’ p. 307).

Jack Holland and one of his books

These were not the only threats issued to journalists. As the authors of ‘The Lost Revolution’ – Hanley and Scott – have noted, during the OIRA feud with the INLA, “Conor O’Cleary of the Irish Times  described how two of the paper’s reporters had received phone calls from OIRA members. They informed them that the journalists might expect a visit from ‘the boys’ and that a ‘close eye’ was being kept on their coverage. Leading Officials met Irish Times  editor Fergus Pyle to complain about Northern reporter Fionnuala O’Connor’s coverage of the feud, but Pyle defended his journalist’s independence”. (‘Lost Revolution’ page 307.)

THE PHOENIX REVEALS THE LIST

The existence of the Walsh committee did not emerge until after Walsh died in 2003 when it was referred to in an obituary in the Phoenix magazine.

The Irish Times itself has never seemed to see any imperative for its journalists to declare their party-political links, interests or machinations; or their historical links to political organisations, including illegal ones.

Next: the OIRA plot to murder a journalist at the Irish Times.